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  • Pam Koutrakos

What Do Our Word Study Notebooks Look Like?

Many teachers I know (myself included) keep their own reading and writing notebooks. We want to show students that we live this work alongside them. We hope our students recognize that we sincerely value all we talk about, play around with, and practice each day. We love how our notebooks allow us to become a PART of our classroom learning communities, and not seen as someone “in charge.” Secretly, we also love being able to use our own notebooks in minilessons, small group work, and conferring. This got me thinking, why don't I keep my OWN word study notebook? If I want my students to value words, feel invested in the study of words, and know that I also find purpose in this work, I need to live it just like I do in reading and writing . . . and yes, it could also be a great teaching tool for me to use from year to year!

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At the start of the year, I recommend setting up notebooks together. Classes could personalize notebooks just as they might in reading and writing. Students can take ownership of their notebooks and begin to see word study notebooks as a useful tool they always have on hand. When I was in the classroom, I found it helpful to separate notebooks into 4 sections: one for resources, one for written classwork, one for high frequency words, and one for goals and reflection. Here’s my own notebook:

Teachers can use the resources section to roll out word study, teach word study practices, and foster independence. At the start of the year, I recommend launching word study by slowly teaching practices whole class. During the launch, the class studies words that are accessible to everyone because at this point, the prioritized learning is less about the actual words and more about the procedures that will help students eventually embrace choice, make purposeful decisions, and promote independence. (This independence will also help teachers confer and meet with small groups to provide more targeted instruction). Students glue a minichart into the resource section each day a new practice is introduced. This minichart says the name of the word study practice, tells WHY the practice is useful, and has an example of what that practice looks like. Once small groups are up and running, students can refer back to these minicharts (and first examples of this work done together) as needed. Notebooks become tools and in turn, students are less likely to look to the teacher for redirection. Here are a few examples of minicharts:

During the launch, students learn about 10-15 different word study practices. Teachers can later teach small groups additional practices tailored to the learning those students most need:

Many word study activities are not written. However, any written work is organized in the assignments section. Students refer to their written work often and use this section as a way to reflect on their word study work habits and learning. The high frequency section not only lists the 4-5 words added each week, but also provides space where students can play with these words.

The final (and possibly most important) section is the goals and reflection section. Like many classroom teachers, I found that writing checklists helped my students to self-assess and purposefully revise their work. A few years ago, a colleague and I wondered if it would be worthwhile to create a similar type of checklist in word study. We wanted to make sure students held themselves accountable for their daily study of words and transferred gained knowledge to experiences outside of word study. We also wanted to help students make the most of each moment and commit to best efforts each day: Checklists are not only useful for self-assessment, but also help students determine possible goals. About once a trimester, I had my students each create one “work habits” goal and one “concepts” goal. After each student chose a personal goal, they wrote it in their goal section and created a simple action plan for meeting this goal. About once a week, I had students check in on their progress towards this goal, celebrate successes, and problem solve challenges. At the end of the trimester/quarter, students also did a more in-depth reflection before creating a new set of goals:

There are many ways to organize a notebook. The set-up discussed in this blog supported my classroom goals, but I have no doubt your students will have other ideas to make word study notebooks a truly useful tool in their learning. I encourage you to talk to your students and brainstorm ideas that pinpoint their own word study goals. Collaborative conversation is a worthwhile start to having all classroom members (teachers included) prepare for a lively year of studying words.

This is the second post in a 5-part blog series on word study. You can find the first blog, “What is Word Study?” here. Stay tuned for future blogs on word study instruction. Upcoming topics include scheduling our time and working with small groups, implementing a student-centered approach to word study, and finding meaningful ways to assess in word study.

NOTE: My district highlighted “Words Their Way” (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton & Johnston) in their word study work. Many of the practices and routines mentioned reflect this style of learning.

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